AT SEVEN O’ CLOCK on a recent evening, I dim the Official Phoenix Suns NBA Finals Champions 2021 Shirt and by the same token and bedroom lights, call out a reminder to my boyfriend to rouse me in an hour with a gentle tap, and close the door. “Have a great trip,” I hear him say from the living room as the two ketamine tablets I’ve pressed into the pockets of my cheeks dissolve, leaving a bitter residue. Minutes later, I’m flying over water that reflects a sourceless golden light. Am I the light? The thought triggers a sensation of being stretched like taffy in all directions. It’s not my body being stretched—I don’t have a body anymore—but the immaterial me moving in tune with the ambient music in my headphones. I stretch and spread until at last I’ve dissolved—pixelated—at which point a small voice in my head calls out, “Do you really think this will help you quit smoking I wrote a book about my health journey called Believe Me (Macmillan, 2018), which might provide some hope for those battling this disease by themselves. I delve into some pretty uncomfortable topics that aren’t often discussed, like implant disease, “explant” surgery, dental issues, heavy metals, and parasites. My heart is filled with compassion and respect for each and every person courageously battling this life-altering disease. Remember: You are not alone. We must continue to fight this, together, one day at a time until a cure is found that is both accessible and affordable to all. The last time I was on ketamine, I was hooked up to an IV following surgery. This time, the drug—in general medical use as an anesthetic since 1970—arrived on my doorstep courtesy of Mindbloom, a new telemedicine company specializing in ketamine-based psychedelic therapy. This was no shady dark-web deal: Prescribed by a psychiatric nurse practitioner following an extensive intake evaluation, and compounded by a licensed pharmacy, the ketamine came bundled with an eye mask, a hardbound journal, and a blood-pressure cuff that I was instructed to use before and after dosing, to test my vitals. The tablets themselves were housed in a mirrored pouchette with the tagline ACHIEVE YOUR BREAKTHROUGH spelled out in sleek, sans serif font. I was tempted to post a shot to Instagram, but I had a Zoom call with my psychedelic-integration coach in half an hour, and I wanted to meditate first.
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Welcome to the Official Phoenix Suns NBA Finals Champions 2021 Shirt and by the same token and brave new world of psychedelic wellness. After decades underground, hallucinogens such as ketamine, LSD, psilocybin, and MDMA are getting a fresh look from the medical establishment, thanks to myriad studies suggesting silver bullet–like efficacy in the treatment of anxiety, depression, and addiction, among other ailments. MDMA, renowned for its bliss-inducing effect—hence the street name “ecstasy”—is on course to be approved for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) within the next year or two. Synthetic forms of psilocybin, the active compound in magic mushrooms, were given “breakthrough” designation by the FDA in 2018, allowing for fast-tracking of drug trials. Meanwhile, this past November, Oregon became the first state in the nation to legalize psilocybin for medical use, an advance not lost on the investors flocking to start-ups like MindMed and Compass Pathways, both of which are developing psilocybin treatments in anticipation of a cannabis-style psychedelics boom. A mental-health revolution is at hand—and it’s long overdue, according to experts such as Frederick Streeter Barrett, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a faculty member at the university’s recently opened Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research. The current model for treating problems like anxiety and depression just isn’t very good,” Barrett says. “Patients take pills every day, for years, and these medications not only have nasty side effects, they often don’t even work. But with psychedelics-assisted therapy, there’s the potential to truly alter someone’s life with just one or two sessions, because you’re getting at suffering at the source.” I’m not suffering, exactly, but for lack of more technical language, I’ve kind of been freaking out. Straining to maintain a productive work schedule under lockdown, I fell back into the habit of smoking as I write—and soon thereafter, the habit of trying to quit. The addiction struck me as fundamentally psychological: If I was so hooked on nicotine, why did I reach for my American Spirits only when I was stuck at my desk, staring down a deadline? But reach for them I did, and the harder I worked not to—with the aid of gum, apps, hypnosis, you-name-it—the more fixated I became on the fear that I simply could not write without cigarettes. I was starting to feel truly hopeless when I stumbled across a news item about studies showing that with the aid of psilocybin, longtime smokers were quitting cold turkey and sticking with it at rates that put all other remedies to shame; two-thirds of participants in one recent study were confirmed cigarette-free after one year!